Technology

Facebook releases internal emails discussing Cambridge Analytica in 2015

Facebook released a set of emails on Friday showing that the company was questioning whether Cambridge Analytica was in violation of its policies as early as September 2015. 

Facebook had been fighting the release of the documents as part of a lawsuit that the attorney general for Washington, D.C., filed last year over the social network's handling of the Cambridge Analytica scandal in which the firm used Facebook data to profile and target voters in the 2016 U.S. elections.

The two sides had reached an agreement this week to unseal the emails while keeping certain portions redacted to protect employees' privacy.

The documents reveal internal discussions about Cambridge Analytica and other third parties among Facebook employees who said they were contacting the companies in question to probe their use of Facebook data and whether it was being used in ways that may violate Facebook's policies.

The actual emails shed little light beyond what had been previously known about their contents. D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine's office and the Securities and Exchange Commission both described them earlier this year in court filings.

A spokesperson for Racine told The Hill that the District fought to make the documents public "because we believe the American people have a right to know what and when Facebook knew about its data security weaknesses."

"According to the conversations this document contains, Facebook employees were raising alarms about political partners and doubts about their compliance with Facebook's data policies as far back as September 2015," the spokesperson added.

Facebook has maintained that the "data scraping" it reviewed beginning in September 2015 is different from the activity that prompted the scandal that Facebook first learned about in December of that year, where a researcher named Aleksandr Kogan sold data on millions of people that he had collected through a personality quiz to Cambridge Analytica, a now-defunct conservative political consulting group.

In a blog post published Friday, Facebook emphasized that "we believe this document has the potential to confuse two different events surrounding our knowledge of Cambridge Analytica." 

"Facebook was not aware that Kogan sold data to Cambridge Analytica until December 2015," the company wrote in the blog post. "That is a fact that we have testified to under oath, that we have described to our core regulators, and that we stand by today."

Facebook also noted that it did not believe there was anything "substantively new" in the document, while also acknowledging the problems involved in the Cambridge Analytica issue. 

"Cambridge Analytica was a clear lapse for us, which we have worked hard to address," Facebook wrote. "We've learned many lessons that will help us become a stronger company going forward."

Updated 12:08 p.m.

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